Life of Fred Math Series

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Charlotte Webb

  • Reviewed on Sunday, March 2, 2014
  • Grades Used: 4th through 8th
  • Dates used: 2010-2014
My family used Life of Fred math curriculum for about four years. My oldest daughter started with Fractions and worked all the way through Pre-Algebra with Economics independently. I began the elementary series with two of my children as a review and worked through it with them, it took a little over a year. Then they began Fractions.

Does LOF teach children to think mathematically as it claims? Will they “understand how math works,” and “why math works” as stated in their marketing? The elementary books begin by teaching the sums of seven. The next book teaches the sums of nine. The texts continue teaching the sums of the odd numbers through seventeen. Over halfway through book five of the series, Edgewood, the sums of ten are taught. Considering that we use a base ten system I find it strange that the sums of ten are not given emphasis as in other curriculums. The number ten is foundational. Children need to have a solid grasp of the addends of ten in order to successfully manipulate numbers when adding and subtracting with more than one digit. Yet, in LOF regarding the sums of tens this is written, “Write all the pairs that add to ten (Edgewood, pg.77).” That’s it. This does not develop a child’s number sense. Children need to know how to play with numbers, how to break them apart and combine them in different combinations. Other curriculums help children develop number sense through teaching different ideas or strategies that they can use when adding and subtracting, such as “adding one more than a sum of ten” or “adding one more than a double.” These strategies are not just to help a child memorize their facts, but they serve to teach a child number sense, or how to think mathematically.

How does LOF teach children the addition facts? Mainly through memorization. I could quote numerous passages throughout the books but this one I think sums up Dr. Schmidt’s pedagogical approach the best, “Here are the add-to 13 numbers. Study them. Say them aloud. (I had to correct a typo, the text actually says, ‘Stay them aloud.’) Learn them now (emphasis not mine, it is actually double underlined in the book)…Please don’t turn the page until you have them memorized. Please (Cats, pg.88).” The multiplication facts are taught in a similar manner. Rather than children being shown the patterns in multiplication or how the facts relate to one another the main emphasis is on memorization.

Dr. Schmidt airs quite openly his thoughts about what he calls “drill and kill” methods of teaching mathematics. He even cautions parents to not “integrate traditional rote/memorization methods” with the LOF curriculum. So I was very surprised when we got to book eight in the series, Honey, where the multiplication tables are learned. In the previous books some time is spent explaining the two times table as doubles and a few mental pictures are given to aid in remembering the facts. Then some time is spent on the three times table. When the four times table is introduced, Fred, the main character of the books, is having a difficult time finding mental pictures to help his students remember the facts. So Fred comes up with the idea of having his students divide a piece of white paper and cut it into cards with each fact written on one card. He calls them Honey cards. I know them as Flash Cards. The four times table is not related to the two times table. The idea of multiplying a number by four as doubling and doubling a number is not given. Rather this is written, “The multiplication table is going to be yours today—from 2x2 up to 9x9. Your choice: Either…A) Get your mother/father/butler/maid/older brother/uncle/aunt to drive you to the store and buy the commercially made flash cards, or B) Get out some paper and scissors (or some index cards) and make your own Fred’s Honey Cards (Honey, pg. 83).” I will with some degree of embarrassment admit that I had my children follow Dr. Schmidt’s instructions and make Honey cards. They were promptly thrown in the trash as perhaps someone with more foresight than I could figure out that the children are able to see the answers through the paper cards, making them mostly useless, unless they held some value as a copywork exercise. I am even more embarrassed to admit, that I did not question the LOF curriculum at that point but continued believing in its unsubstantiated marketing claims. I went ahead and bought my children flash cards. The remaining chapters of Honey as well as some chapters in following books tell the children to practice their flash cards before beginning the chapter. The instructions are, “Take each card and say (or guess) the answer and see if you got it right (Honey, pg. 115).” Guessing the answer to a math fact, and more specifically teaching the children to do so, is not teaching children to think mathematically. Mathematical thinking relates the unknown fact to a known fact and then mathematically figures out the correct answer.

farrahleigh02

  • Reviewed on Wednesday, January 29, 2014
  • Grades Used: 11th
  • Dates used: 2014
Short review: I do NOT recommend!

Long Review: This particular subject (Geometry) in the Life of Fred series has very poor execution of the lesson and does not coincide with the end of lesson questions. For example: The first lesson speaks of Fred's farm animal eating grass in two parallel lines and explains the difference between a line segment and a parallel line. Then the "Your Turn to Play" questions ask, "What is a number that could not be a length of a line segment". The lesson did not state what numbers could / count not be a line segment; therefore, the student does not know how to answer. The next question asks about the differences between 3 points on a line segment. The lesson did not mention any information concerning the distances between points or how the points could be combined from two different line segments; yet again, causing the student to not know how to answer the question. I called "JOY Learning Center" to file a return to receive a refund once I realized this curriculum is NOT a sound Geometry curriculum and spoke with Andrea. I was told the company does not give any types of returns or refunds. It was NEVER stated on the purchase order that all sales are final / no returns accepted. I am now stuck with a book and answer key that I would not recommend and can not receive a refund. I supposed it will make for a great bonfire starter when we celebrate finding an appropriate executed Geometry curriculum.

dscale

  • Reviewed on Friday, September 6, 2013
  • Grades Used: 6th
  • Dates used: Summer 2012-Spring 2013
I have three children ages 8, 11 & 12.
For the first several years of math my boys (ages 11 & 12) used Abeka's Math curriculum and did EXTREMELY well. After we completed Abeka's Grade 5 Math, I started to get concerned that they were just turning into human calculators, as Abeka is a big drill and kill program. I really liked what they had learned and felt they had a solid foundation, but decided to introduce Life of Fred for the critical thinking aspect. So...the summer before they started 6th grade, I bought the Life of Fred fractions and decimals thinking it would be total review for them. The first 1/4 of the book was a bit of a struggle getting them going, as they were not used to seeing this kid of math, but after that, they whizzed through it not problem and we were all loving it. When fall came around, I ordered both the Pre-Algebra with biology and Pre-Algebra with Economics for the school year. They did fabulously. Then the older one, decided he wanted to move on to Algebra and began to struggle. We did as Professor Schmidt touted and my son contacted him with a question of two and might I say Professor Schmidt was almost rude, cynical and condescending. I was shocked! At one point, I myself tried to jump in the issue was clearly not getting any better. So... this year we decided to make another switch and I ordered Saxon 1/2 Algebra with their DVDs (a Godsend!!) . My boys are off to another great start. They love the teaching part of the DVD. They do think the math is a little too easy, but can review really hurt? Anyway...and here is the interesting part....My oldest has been begging to try this Mathnasium place (not because he needed help) because he would like to be fabulous at math. I kept putting it off and finally gave in yesterday. I took him for the assessment. Keep in mind he is in 7th grade this year. They gave him the level 9 test based on what I had told them. Too hard. Then gave him level 8 - also too hard. Finally, gave him a level 7 test and he scored poorly. Now, that may have been the "summer slide" thing going on, but I looked at the test afterward and most if not all of this he learned in 4th and 5th grade Abeka math. My point is...I think I did them a huge disservice by not sticking with an Abeka or Saxon style Math program. Please do not lose a year of Math like I did. If you like Life of Fred ONLY use it as a supplement. My youngest loves the Life of Fred and blew threw five books in one year. I can only say I take issue with Professor Schmidt. His claim about helping the children and working with them directly is completely false. Love Abeka (just did the workbook and speed drills) and Saxon (although we have not done Saxon without the DVD). I hope this helps all of you who are considering the Life of Fred series.

spetzi

  • Reviewed on Friday, January 25, 2013
  • Grades Used: 3rd and up
  • Dates used: 2008-present
We have thoroughly enjoyed Fred's adventures. His antics have made math fun (or at least less painful) for my kids.

My family has used Fractions, Dec & Percents, both Pre-Algebra books, Beginning Algebra (w/home companion), Advanced Algebra and Geometry. We just began the elementary series with a younger child.

My favorite books are the pre-algebra. I love how much information he weaves into these books (although some of the economics was above a younger student). In general, the pacing is good. Occasionally I think he jumps ahead a bit in some Your Turn to Plays. I believe he's trying to help the student make a leap on her own, but if she can't make it she may feel frustrated.

One time I tried Fred on its own with Beginning Algebra w/the Home Companion. My mathy son felt there wasn't enough practice. We've used Fred with other programs (Horizons, Teaching Textbooks, Art of Problem Solving and Zaccarro's books) quite successfully. I've used Fred as the spine with others to support his topics so the Fred story makes sense, but other presentations often help a student to master the concepts.

I highly recommend these books as a way to find applications to real life problems/situations, to help students remember the reasons we do what we do in math and to entertain.

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